Inside the Fence

March 11, 2008

Outtakes from an interview, and the meeting with an attitude ...

In our jobs we all know other people through other people. Patrick Graham, director of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, was one of those for me. I first interviewed him when he was chair of ACI-NA. Turns out he’s a man of demeanor, of pragmatism, of getting the job done.

My second interview with Graham is the centerpoint of this issue’s cover story. Again, getting the job done. For some time I’ve been tracking this initiative by airports to help each other in times of crisis. They kind of treat the airport in crisis as one of their own.

Anyway, in pursuit of the catalyst for all this voluntary support and coordination, the search kept pointing in one direction — Patrick Graham. It’s heartening to know that a positive thought remains something your associates want to jump aboard. Such was the case with airports and hurricanes.

But Graham, a recognized thinker among airports, likes to talk about other issues as well. To wit ...

  • On the subject of congestion pricing: “I think you could double the size of LaGuardia and I think it would fill right back up. It’s not going to be less congested. So, as a practical matter, should you be flying small airplanes in there with 19 people in them, taking up an operation? Or should you be flying 300 people in?

“Is raising the price high going to push that smaller one out? Probably. The bigger aircraft operator is going to pay it, because going into places like New York or Boston, you can make it back. How high are you going to have to push it? The whole idea behind congestion pricing is to move people to off-peak times. But they fly during peak times because that’s when the passenger wants to go, and they can charge the passenger a pretty good price for flying in those peak times.

“I think it would be partially effective, but I don’t think it’s going to change the game.”

  • And on getting into airline services, which his airport does: “We do handle AirTran — the ticketing/check-in; the baggage handling; the pushback; everything except fueling. They’re our employees. We can cross-utilize our people and cross-train them.

“Why would we get into it? One reason: air service. We can say to AirTran that you can add a flight and that flight is only going to cost you $350 for us to handle it. All you have to do is fly the plane in and out of here.

“Delta Global Services and Jetstream are here. AirTran spoke with both of them. Were we competing with them? Yes, we were. Will we continue to do it? Yes.”

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Finally, Savannah was host to this year’s NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference, a premier marketing event for FBOs and business airports who want to reach corporates and Part 135s. It is the meeting with an attitude — if you don’t leave Schedulers charged up, you weren’t paying attention. If this is the audience, put it on the radar screen.

Thanks for reading.